Washington in Review

As Congress nears the end of its legislative session for 2016, here is an update on recent legislative activities that affect biomedical research.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Other Agencies (Labor HHS) Appropriations committee recommended funding the NIH for FY17 at $33.3 billion. This is $1.25 billion above last year and $2.25 billion above the President’s request. The Senate Labor HHS committee recommended $34 billion for NIH for FY17. This is an increase of $2 billion over FY16 levels.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
The House Appropriations Committee recommended NSF be funded at $7.4 billion in the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. This is $57 million below the FY16 enacted level and $158 million below the President’s request. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill similar to the CJS Appropriations bill that would provide $7.5 billion for NSF.

Fetal Tissue Research
The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was formed in the wake of the summer 2015 release of controversial undercover videos allegedly revealing that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. The panel, created by the Republican majority, hones in on fetal tissue research, the necessity of it, and the bioethics of it.

There have been two hearings thus far. Overall, the Republicans question the need to use fetal tissue in research. Republicans on the Select Investigative Panel are subpoenaing companies, including StemExpress, that were involved in the undercover videos. The Majority members claim to have evidence that some clinics are selling fetal tissue for profit—a violation of federal law. There is no word on when the next hearing will be or what evidence the majority has uncovered.

21st Century Cures Act
The 21st Century Cures Act is a piece of legislation that seeks to bring our healthcare system into the 21st century by investing in medical innovation, incorporating the patient perspective, and modernizing clinical trials. The House passed the entire piece of legislation last year, but it has since stalled in the Senate. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed 19 individual bills instead of the one comprehensive 21st Century Cures bill that the House passed. The committee doesn’t have the authority to include the mandatory funding that the House provided. The chairman of the HELP committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), is working with the budget committee to secure funding and has stated that he will not bring the bills to the floor until they secure bipartisan support.

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